After the game at USC Upstate ended, I had one more game on Saturday. Wofford, the more established mid-major of Spartanburg, was playing just two miles south of Upstate. My original plan at the beginning of the season was to see Upstate play in the afternoon, and then make it to Columbia around 6 PM in plenty of time for South Carolina's 8 PM tip against Tennessee. But I knew that at some point I had to realize my loyalties are greater for mid-major basketball. The last two years I have only been to six of eight SEC games at USC. Why should this year be any different? I finished up my degree requirements two months ago, the team has been even worse than usual, and I am doing the 800 Games Project this year. Yet I had attended all six SEC home games for South Carolina. It would be best to just stay in Spartanburg and see more high quality mid-major basketball.
Upstate's game ended around 4 PM, with Wofford's starting at 7 PM, so I had plenty of time to kill. I considered staying for the Upstate women's game at 4:30 PM. But it would have been tight making it to Wofford on time, especially with high attendance likely at Wofford. I could have stayed for the start of the game, but they wanted everybody to clear the Hodge Center even with the ticket for the men's game good for the women's game. So I headed to KFC a half mile from the Upstate campus and a mile and a half from the Wofford campus. After that I got to Wofford just before 5 PM. I walked around the campus a little bit and noticed that the Terriers had a baseball game going on. I got to the ballpark minutes after the game ended, an 8-7 Wofford win over Pittsburgh that would be a big RLU in basketball (but not as much in baseball, with Northern schools above the Red Line usually de-emphasizing baseball).
So I walked around the exterior of Benjamin Johnson Arena quite a bit. I asked arriving arena workers when the ticket office opened. They were unsure of when it opened between 5:30 and 6 PM, but at least they were more helpful than the staff at Upstate. So I walked back and forth between the interior of the gym and the main entrance, studying the statue of a terrier at the front. The statue was of a very realistic and masculine looking dog. I could not get the photo to display here, but the sculpture was the dog equivalent of Michelangelo's David.
Once it got close to 5:30, I mostly just stayed at the top of the gym looking out over the empty Benjamin Johnson Arena. The arena staff workers did not seem to care too much that I was in the ticketed area of the gym before it opened. Last year at Wofford an usher specifically told me that I could sit in the bleachers until the ticket office opened. I was never informed of when it did open, so I just kept my seat in the bleachers all the way through the game. This time I wanted to make sure I did it right with getting a ticket when the ticket office opened, so I always had an eye on the ticket booth. A good number of people were waiting to get tickets as well, coming with an elementary school chorus that was singing the national anthem. Once the ticket office opened, I rushed in to secure my ticket. I figured it would be a capacity crowd with the Terriers hosting local rival Furman on Senior Day. And unlike Upstate, it would indeed be a packed house. The announced attendance was 3,500, the same as the capacity of Benjamin Johnson Arena.
While Upstate has seen a turnaround this year, Wofford has also struggled in basketball in the past. It was not until when the current class of seniors being recognized started that the Terriers began to rise to the top of the SoCon. All of these seniors started today, including two reserves who have not played much before. The other three seniors in Kevin Giltner, Brad Loesing, and Drew Crowell have all been major contributors in the Wofford rise to prominence. The main core of Terriers behind the SoCon titles of the last two years had graduated a year ago, and it appeared to me earlier in the season that Wofford had used up its magic. The first two times I saw Wofford play, they nearly lost to a NAIA team that finished 9-15 this season and did lose to a team that finished eight of 11 in the Big South. But the Terriers got back on track with a RLU against Wake Forest and have played well again against SoCon competition in conference play. Like with Matt Cayuela's game at Elon, the home team could secure a bye to the quarterfinals with a win and an opponent's loss. Georgia Southern would be playing SoCon leader Davidson, so a win likely meant a bye and second place in the SoCon South, by far the more competitive of the two divisions in the conference.
The Wofford seniors got the first basket but would fall behind soon afterwards. But once the other starters joined in, Wofford would go on a big 11-1 run midway through the first half to secure the lead for good. Freshman Karl Cochran led the Terrier run with 22 points on the night, giving Wofford more to look forward to in the future. Even with the two schools close to each other, the packed house was largely pulling for the home standing Terriers. Furman kept it close in the first half, but the highly efficient Wofford offense pulled away gradually in the second half to give Wofford a 67-52 win. And with Georgia Southern indeed losing to Davidson, Wofford would get another bye to the quarterfinals. Davidson remains the favorite but Wofford has the experience to do more damage in the tournament.
This was the main event, one that the Spartanburg community was able to get into. It's a shame that they weren't able to get into the Upstate game as much, but they have finally caught on to Wofford basketball after being slow to embrace it initially. Hopefully this will lead to better fan support for all of Spartanburg's teams. There is a lot going on in Spartanburg for a small city, and I am glad I did both games here rather than going to see another Gamecock loss in Columbia.
at WOFFORD 67, FURMAN 52 02/25/2012
FURMAN 14-15 (8-10) -- B. Sebirumbi 5-9 3-4 13; J. Loyd 4-6 1-2 10; B. Irwin 1-7 0-0 2; B. Austin 3-7 0-0 8; C. Toler 1-3 0-0 2; D. Brown 0-2 0-0 0; B. Barnes 4-7 5-6 14; D. Early 0-1 1-2 1; C. Reddick 1-2 0-2 2. Totals 19-44 10-16 52. WOFFORD 19-12 (12-6) -- K. Giltner 6-11 1-1 17; D. Crowell 2-6 0-0 5; K. Cochran 7-10 4-4 22; B. Loesing 6-13 2-4 15; L. Skinner 0-1 1-2 1; J. Byrd 0-3 0-0 0; A. Smith 2-3 0-0 4; M. Steelman 1-1 0-0 3; J. Tecklenburg 0-1 0-0 0; D. Rinksalis 0-0 0-0 0; L. Brown 0-0 0-0 0; J. Swinton 0-1 0-0 0; T. Wagener 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-50 8-11 67.
Three-point goals: FURM 4-18 (B. Austin 2-5; B. Barnes 1-2; B. Irwin 0-5; J. Loyd 1-3; D. Brown 0-2; D. Early 0-1), WOFF 11-22 (D. Crowell 1-2; K. Giltner 4-8; M. Streelman 1-1; B. Loesing 1-3; K. Cochran 4-6; J. Byrd 0-1; L. Skinner 0-1); Rebounds: FURM 28 (B. Barnes 6), WOFF 24 (D. Crowell 5); Assists: FURM 3 (B. Sebirumbi 1), WOFF 14 (D. Crowell 5); Total Fouls -- FURM 15, WOFF 18; Fouled Out: FURM-None; WOFF-None.